Waller and Montgomery County Stories Generally
Media and Reference Materials
Contact: Nick Wallingford - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Prouse family, descendents of Richard and Mary (nee King) Prouse, were well known as a timbermilling family, and nothing characterises this better than the story of the three brothers and the three houses...
Richard Prouse II was only 10 years old when he accompanied his parents to New Zealand, arriving on the Duke of Roxborough on 7 Feb 1840. In those days, the ships landed on what is now the Petone foreshore. After a first home on the Old Porirua Road the family moved to Wainuiomata and became sawmillers and farmers. This story is about the three sons of Richard Prouse II and wife Janet (nee Gorrie), third generation timber workers in early New Zealand.
James (born 1853), Richard III (born 1855 - shortly after the major earthquake!), and John (born 1857) were all born in the area south of Wainuiomata. By the time they were young men, and managing the family sawmilling business, the opportunities in the Wainuiomata and Whiteman's Valley areas were reduced, and the three boys decided to move the sawmill up to the Levin area.
Richard and James moved to Levin in 1891, having bought several tracts of land, and arranged for timber leases to supply their mill. Moving the mill itself was a pretty major undertaking, making use of the railway that had made that whole Levin district open to settlement by pakehas in that timeframe. A manuscript from Allan Prouse, a son of Richard III, describes the move to Levin and the hardships of the time. Perhaps even more interesting is hearing Allan read the history!
Family stories say that John Prouse was an unwilling participant in his marriage to Helen ("Lena") Hardinge, with one family story believing that she was pregnant to John's father at the time!
In 1885, John made his debut as a baritone in Wellington, which led to a career on the concert stage. Numerous trips to England and Europe followed, and the family did not return to New Zealand to stay until 1892. When they did return, it was to join John's brothers in the Prouse Lumber Company. Brothers James and Richard managed the timber milling in Levin; John managed the sales in Wellington. The business built quite a large factory for making timber mouldings and retail timber sales at 97 Taranaki Street in Wellington (on the northern side of Taranaki at Jessie Street). John's son William Prouse was the architect - William designed a number of significant buildings in the Wellington region, including the Hotel St. George.
So at the same time, the three brothers built their three houses - all from timber from their mill, and all pretty much to the same plan.
Family stories have it that after the two houses in Levin were built, James and Richard tossed a coin to see who would live in which. But a family story also has it that the two houses were mirror images of each other - and they most certainly were not.
James' house was built on the south side of Queen St ("upper Queen St"), to the east of the town of Levin - it has always been known as "Ashleigh". Richards' house was closer in, south of the centre and to the east of Oxford Street, as was referred to as 'the Weraroa House', whether by real name or just by description. It was convenient to the sawmill, which was built close to the train station (to make it easy to ship timber...). John's house in Wellington, built to pretty much the same plan, was at 26 Clifton Terrace. Two of the houses are still standing - only Richard and Tina's house has been torn down. John's house in Clifton Terrace has been recently renovated, and is visible as you come into Wellington, to the west of the motorway. One of James' great-grandsons lives in James' house in Levin.
The Weraroa House was torn down to free up the land for industrial development in the late 1950s. When demolished, the heart matai timber was still in excellent shape, and much was reused in the construction of other Levin buildings. The roofing iron and spoutings were original - they had lasted almost 70 years. It had a 12 foot stud on the ground floor, and an 11 foot stud for the upstairs. The house had about 10 rooms.
Sawmill with the house in the background
Summer garden at Weraroa House
View to the east from Weraroa House
Weraroa House on "Peace Day" - 19 July 1919
From a distance, showing the lack of buildings nearby
Painting of Weraroa House
Panorama of the back of the Weraroa House
Postcard of Weraroa House
Drawing of house by Angela Shepherd Weraroa House